Ukrainian Mariners Return to the Sea

(Image Credit: Marine Transport Workers Trade Union of Ukraine)

Though Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues beyond the war’s first anniversary, the shipping industry has begun to welcome the return of Ukrainian seafarers to the workforce. Their return to work provides much-needed relief and balance for crewing rotations and promotes general crew welfare, which the conflict has profoundly impacted.

Incredibly, many Ukrainian seafarers and their families, whom are mostly based in other European countries, do not take full shore leave. This strength and resilience has allowed crew availability to recover to pre-Russian invasion levels, despite global hardships.

Henrik Jensen, CEO of international maritime recruitment and crewing management company Danica Crewing Specialists, explained how the crewing situation has changed: “When the war broke out, about 60% of Ukrainian seafarers were onboard merchant ships. A few wanted to return home immediately, but the majority stayed onboard and when their tenure came to the planned end, providing their families were safe, they asked to stay longer to guarantee an income.” 

“Over the summer this situation changed, as seafarers were reunited with their families who had fled… many of them extended their shore leave breaks, creating a brief shortage of relievers. However… since the autumn, we have seen a balance establish between supply and demand for Ukrainian seafarers.”

He went on to remark how these changes may be attributed to the expenses of relocation to EU countries and the UK.

Ukraine was recently named by the most current ICS/BIMCO (International Chamber of Shipping/Baltic and International Maritime Council) Seafarer Workforce Report as the country most likely to supply the maritime workforce in the future. However, seafaring has long been a tradition in Ukraine. One year on from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, some have begun to speak out about their experiences.

A forty-year-old Danica bulk-carrier Captain/Shipmaster described his own turmoil as he waited on word from his pregnant wife, children, and parents in Mariupol. “I cannot really explain all that feeling when I heard her voice… [I] couldn’t stop my weeping. I was happy to know that she and all my family were still alive… [but] during our conversation, it was terrible to hear the loud noise of bomb explosions in the background.”. Fleeing first to Bulgaria, the Captain’s family was eventually able to reunite in Romania safely, where his baby daughter was born.

Another seafarer, also waiting aboard a merchant vessel for word from family in Mariupol, recalls learning his father had been injured by a Russian sniper after weeks of no communication.  “The hospitals did not provide proper care… The number of dead and wounded was awful. The doctors talked about how many people needed help, but they were unable to do anything.”

Some crew members were themselves trapped in particularly dangerous cities, such as Mariupol and Kherson. One 25-year-old seafarer recalled sheltering in a basement in Kherson under Russian occupancy for three months with his mother, grandfather, and sick grandmother. Though the sailor managed to escape capture and return to maritime work, his grandmother passed during the next six months of occupation before Kherson was liberated.

The adversity the Ukrainians face is far from over, however. As the bulk carrier Master shared: “It’s like a book without an end right now. We lost everything… It’s hard to understand… and I’m now the only breadwinner in the family.”

Some mariners see this as motivation- as the 25-year-old seafarer put it: “Ukrainians are [some] of the best seafarers in the industry… As our warriors protect our land, we, too, should keep the bar high!”

Herd Law Firm would like to thank the Marine Transport Workers’ Trade Union of Ukraine (MTWTU), The International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN), and Danica Crewing Specialists for enabling these seafarers to share their stories .

We at the Herd Law firm are proud to support Ukrainian mariners. We now represent and have successfully represented many brave Ukrainian seamen, injured or killed far from home, while working aboard ships and providing for their war-weary families.

(Image Credit: Marine Transport Workers Trade Union of Ukraine)

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